Review snippets taken from Matthew Ramirez’s review over at SPIN
The record makes the most sense if you read it as an extended interlude from To Pimp a Butterfly — imagine if that album was 115 minutes long as opposed to 79, and this is a particularly potent stretch of that run time, united in atmosphere and mood. Starting with a disorienting dirty-talk intro (which only sets up further corporeally centered songs and lines down the road, important on a record substantially concerned with black bodies) Lamar speaks with God, letting us know the headspace this record occupies: “I made To Pimp a Butterfly for you / Told me to use my vocals to save mankind for you… I tithed for you, I pushed the club to the side for you / Who love you like I love you?”
“Untitled 02 | 06.23.2014” kicks off with the first occurrence of a repeated mantra throughout the album: a preacher-like “pimp-pimp, hooray!” shout. It’s half-celebratory, half-mocking, an attempt to unite the congregation with his cutting interpretation of “pimping,” which is used in context with the same moral implication as the title of his previous album, but also used in a commercial sense, in the context of black artists in a black genre still being forced to submit to white industry standards and white demands. On the powerful “untitled 03 | 05.28.2013” he raps, “A piece of mine’s / That’s what the white man wanted when I rhyme / Telling me that he selling me just for $10.99 / If I go platinum from rapping / I do the company just fine,” and it’s clear to see whom Lamar views as the pimp and who’s getting pimped.
But for all its weighty talk on race, religion, and the politics of rap music (not just racial and industry politics, but like, “Might tell Obama be more like Punch” politics), untitled unmastered. doesn’t threaten to go off the rails nearly as much as the equally weighty Butterfly. It’s punctuated with Lamar’s wit and personality, who assists a repeated motif/melody in “They say the government mislead the youth, youth, youth” like a particularly woke youth minister before giving way to another repeated motif/mantra in “Head is the answer.” This is the dualistic dynamic that opens the record up to listeners and motivates the Hot Take that it’s an even better album than Butterfly. The strong threads that bound Section.80, good kid, m.A.A.d city, and Butterfly are still present here, but only implied. Unmastered. feels more like a prayer circle or hip-hop cypher than an album weighted down by a capital-C concept.